Edinson Cavani reminds Manchester United exactly what they will miss if he exits this summer

After another performance which demonstrated why Manchester United should do everything in their power to keep their veteran goalscorer at the club, there was a faint air of resignation in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s voice as he discussed Edinson Cavani’s future. It did not suggest a total surrender – Cavani is yet to make a final decision, there is still a chance he agrees to stay for another season – but Solskjaer’s tone was telling.

“He knows I’d love to have him for another year,” the United manager admitted. “We have spoken about it. I understand this year has been very difficult but I’ve promised him Old Trafford and Manchester is a different place with our fans in the stadium, he must try to get that feeling to be on our side.” The fact that Cavani needs such assurances from Solskjaer points to the problem.

It is no secret that the Uruguayan is still deliberating whether to stay at United for another year, as was initially intended, or to return closer to home and nearer his family. Despite Solskjaer’s heartfelt belief that Manchester is “a fantastic place to live”, he sounded as though he is fighting an uphill battle. “I’m doing my best. Let’s see. Nights like this, hopefully we can get to the final and hopefully he can see himself being here for another year.”

At least that place in the Gdansk final appears secure, thanks in no small part to Cavani going thermonuclear at Old Trafford on Thursday night. Cavani scored two, assisted two more and won a penalty, meaning he had a hand in all but one of United’s goals in a 6-2 thrashing of Roma. These were not fortuitous tap-ins or unremarkable sideways passes then thwacked in from 40 yards, either.

OK, his second goal was a tap-in, but even that rebound after goalkeeper Antonio Mirante spilled Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s tame shot demonstrated Cavani’s supreme powers of anticipation and his knack for scoring the poacher’s goals that Solskjaer demands. And even if it was slightly scrappy, his other contributions were sublime. The earlier finish was a first-time, full-blooded thump into the top corner after a delightful one-two with Bruno Fernandes.

The assists were even easier on the eye. Cavani’s first was part of a flowing United move, one of their best of the season, and the Urugayan’s deft lay-off over his own shoulder to play Fernandes in behind Roma’s defence was the highlight. The second was better still, a wonderful, raking pass played with the outside of his boot which set his young apprentice Mason Greenwood running through to add the sixth.

Solskjaer could not praise Cavani’s performance highly enough. “A centre forward as a centre forward should be playing, running the channels, being a focal point, creating chances for others, scoring goals, missing a couple of chances as well but that’s what he’s there to do really. If you get three or four chances every game you’ll score one, two or three goals. I’m absolutely delighted with him.”

It would be wrong to suggest that Cavani’s six months in Manchester have been a totally unqualified success. As Solskjaer says, a fair few chances have gone begging along the way but getting into the position to score is the hard part. There have been injuries too, as expected, and sometimes frustration over his fitness. Cavani needs to be in prime condition to play at his very best. When he is, he belies his 34 years of age. “You can see the difference in him when he’s worked up his fitness,” Solskjaer said.

And even if there have been the predictable spells on the sidelines, Cavani’s impact has been far greater than many expected. It was easy to scoff at the signing of a high-profile and ageing striker with a questionable injury record on a hefty salary, especially as his arrival came late in last summer’s transfer window and amid little competition from other top clubs. Every red light was flashing, every alarm bell ringing.

What those of us who doubted the signing ignored was Cavani’s undeniable class. His movement is peerless, his link-up play is intelligent, his constructive criticism and sincere encouragement of the younger players around him is not only admirable but endearing. The numbers of those who believe he is not worth a year’s extension are shrinking rapidly. If he decides against staying in Manchester, he will leave having proved many of us wrong.

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